"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Friday, September 19, 2008


Technology and democracy: combating distortions

By Reilly Capps, staff writer
Daily Planet
Thu Jul 31, 2008, 08:02 PM MDT


Telluride, Colo. -

Cynics say we’re living in a time of unprecedented lies and spin. After all, five years ago, a president distorted the facts and led us into a war. Not enough people questioned the administration’s “facts” about WMD and aluminum tubes, not to mention the idea of “pre-emptive war” during its “War on Terror.”

But is all that true?

If you look strictly at the numbers, we’re living in a world where more documents, histories, and general facts are available than ever before. There exists on the World Wide Web an archive of virtually everything ever said by virtually every top official in the Bush administration, and anyone determined enough can go through and sift out the fudges (someone counted 935 lies about Iraq).

It might, in fact, be getting harder to lie. Journalistic plagiarizer Jayson Blair got tripped up by LexisNexis. A Google search here revealed a town manager candidate’s alleged criminal past.

One of the Web sites aiming at opening the floodgates of information and letting information flow freely is Archive.org.

The founder of that Web site, Brewster Kahle, will speak at the Telluride Tech Fest at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Tech Fest is a gathering of technology-minded researchers and entrepreneurs, and the theme this year is “Democracy and Technology.”

One of the best ways to help democracy with technology is by giving voters the best access to the most information.

“We want universal access to all knowledge,” Kahle said Thursday, by telephone, from his office in San Francisco. “We believe that’s the opportunity of our generation.”

Archive.org has a library that all but a few bricks and mortar libraries would be jealous of. You can read 450,000 scanned-in books, and his 200-person army of workers is busily scanning in 1,000 more every day, he said. Works of philosophy, history, government, novels.

“It’s the Enlightenment idea that this country was sort of founded on,” Kahle said. “The idea that the individual is worth investing in — universal education and the modern library system came out of that. We see ourselves in that tradition.”

Sarah McClain, who runs the Tech Fest, brought in Dan Pearlman to talk about “Democracy at the Supreme Court,” and will be showing a movie by Keya Lea Horiuchi called “Considering Democracy.” Kahle and Archive.org could be part of the backbone of participatory democracy in the future.

“That’s a large part of what democracy should be,” McClain said, “is access to knowledge and be able to make your own decision.”

Kahle gives this example:

Archive.org has old press releases from the Bush Administration on file. There’s one from 2003, issued at the time of the “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier in San Diego. It read “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.” After it became clear combat hadn’t ended, the White House went back into its own press release and quietly added a word: “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.”

But thanks to Archive.org’s archiving, watchdogs caught that change, and stopped a little bit of historical airbrushing.

It’s not all seriousness at Archive.org. There’s every concert ever played by the Grateful Dead, and video of Final Fantasy and “Sex Madness.”

Still, Kahle sees his mission as very serious, and echoes the late Peter Lyman, one of the great thinkers about the internet.

“Now knowledge has an address,” Lyman said. “You can go and build on it.”

While kids used to learn from secondary sources, from textbooks and such, now kids and adults can go to the primary source.

“That’s very exciting to see the actual things,” Kahle said. “Lets go find out what Nike is saying.”

Along with all this democracy talk the Tech Fest is bringing back the Tesla Coil, that crazy Frankensteinian electricity generator, on main street Friday and Saturday nights.

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